In the preface to “Language Machines,” Jeffrey Masten and Peter Stallybrass comment on the renewed attention to protocols of reading and the material particulars of what we read: “What is closest to us, as Wittgenstein noted, is often least visible. In naturalizing our own writing, reading, and printing machines, we cease to see how they have shaped, and continue to shape, our own cultural practices.” The academic book preface certainly can be classed among the least visible of cultural artifacts: the academic book market is exceedingly small; prefatory matter, with its array of acknowledgements, is not part of the text proper, but rather a paratextual element, which can be separated from the text without any real loss of “content.” Such critics as Roger Chartier have urged attention to all elements of the printed book, paratext as well as text. Such studies have been particularly important in early modern British literature. Early modern printed books often contain prefatory matter that attempts to counter the “stigma of print,” whereby print publication was seen as déclassé compared to the still strong tradition of manuscript circulation. Interestingly, prefaces of contemporary academic books on early modern topics exhibit many of the same defensive strategies as their early modern print counterparts: charting prior circulation in manuscript among a coterie of readers and recording patronage relationships. Needless to say, academic books are not subject to any stigma of print; indeed, they are the most prestigious form of publication. The traces of defensive early modern prefatory practices in contemporary academic books suggest an effort to record the authors’ position within an aristocratic community, relegating the reader to the fringes of that community.
|Keywords:||Print, Manuscript, Publication|
Professor, English Department, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, LA, USA
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